It’s allergy season and if you suffer from allergies, you’re not alone. Over 50 million Americans—at least one in five, maybe more—have allergies, leaving many folks off balance.
Here’s a little background on allergies. In 1905 Austrian pediatrician Clemens Pirquet first used the term allergy, which is derived from the Greek word allos, meaning different or changed and the word ergos, meaning work or action. In essence, allergy is an altered reaction—and it’s a pervasive and costly one, too.
We’ve already noted that allergies affect over 50 million Americans, but its effects hit the pocketbook as well. In fact, the cost of allergies in the U.S. is more than $10 billion annually. Allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies) is present in about 35 million Americans—six million of those being children. Likewise, asthma affects 15 million Americans—with five million of those children. The number of cases of asthma, incidentally, has doubled over the last 20 years.
That’s a whole lot of rough breathing, sneezing, sinus congestion and itchy eyes, leading millions of people to look for relief.
What causes allergies? Certain foods, dust mites, molds, pollens and animal dander (from dogs and cats, for example) are often to blame for these allergic reactions, and they prompt your immune system to attack these foreign substances as dangerous invaders.
Here’s what happens: your immune system sends out antibodies to attack the intruders known as allergens. One type of the antibodies generally associated with allergies is immunoglobulin E (IgE). Interestingly, receptor cells for IgE are dotted throughout the body including areas near the sinuses, nose, eyes and throat. (Do those areas sound familiar?)
When the allergens enter the body, IgE antibodies go to work in the tissues surrounding the sinuses, nose, eyes and throat and link up with mast cells to release powerful natural chemicals known as histamines and leukotrienes, both of which bring on inflammation—an over-the-top inflammation response, to be exact.
Common allergic reactions include sneezing, watery eyes, itchiness, runny nose, hives, asthma and more. For many, allergic symptoms occur throughout the sinus system and appear to be all in their head.
Hello, congestion, nasal drip, scratchy throat and itchy eyes!
So…what can be done? Allergen avoidance is the best way to improve allergic responses, but that’s not always possible. Some choose over-the-counter or prescription drugs—including shots—to get relief.
There are natural alternatives, too, and immune balance is key. A healthy diet including healthy proteins, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals is essential. Dietary supplementation with immune-balancing probiotics and herbs may also help—especially when allergies have you off balance.
Allergies…they’re definitely nothing to sneeze at.